Lessons learned 2

16 June 2017

Chris Tatham writes:  I’m a newbie chess club member having just completed my first season of competitive chess. Whilst I’ve reached an age where I’ve reconciled myself to never becoming a Grandmaster, I’m still keen to improve. The season’s end seemed a timely opportunity to summarise some of the key lessons I’ve learned from the games I’ve played. They are all very personal but shared in case they might be helpful to others.. My end of season grade is a heady 115 so as you can see there is a lot to learn……

If I was my opponent, what move would I fear most and what would make my life most difficult?

One important thing that has surprised me in competitive play has been the importance of the psychological aspects of chess and particularly the impact that pressure plays on the outcome of a game. To me, at times this has seemed almost as important as respective chess abilities.

This was particularly illustrated by one game I played which happened to be against the highest rated player I faced all season (128 at the time). I was White and had managed to build up what I thought (given my humble grade) was a favourable position as shown below:

Here I was thinking that I was starting to develop good pressure against the black king, with both bishops aimed in his direction and with my queen and knight were suitably positioned to quickly join the attack. I couldn’t see any immediate way for my opponent to pressure or threaten my king which I had left uncastled to keep my options open. So I played:

15. h4

with the aim of giving my stronger opponent something to think about and put him under pressure with the threat of a full frontal assault. The move is certainly not the best objectively – engines will typically opt for 15. O-O and then a range of other moves before h4. The immediate game continued:

15…Ne7 16. Bxb7 Rxb7 17. Qe4 Qc8


18. g4

With Black’s pieces tied up I felt I had opportunity to press home an attack on the kingside so pushed my g pawn up the board to add further pressure. Objectively again this may not necessarily be the ‘best’ move but I felt Black was under severe pressure already and this was good from a psychological perspective and difficult to deal with practically ‘over the board’. At each move I was consciously trying to give my opponent something to think about and a problem to solve to keep building the pressure in the hope of this leading to a mistake. For example in this case after g4, g5 is threatened with the potential loss of the black bishop.

18… g6 19. g5 Bg7 20. Ne5 Bxe5 21. Qxe5 Rf5 22. Qe4 h5 23. d5 exd5 24. Qxe7

Finally the pressure tells and I win a piece.

Despite making heavy weather of it, I fortunately went on to win this game (it was one of my better ones of the season!). If you are interested you can find the full game here – https://limewoodchess.club/games/100b-christatham-tdevl-08feb17.htm

The learning point for me from this game is that the ‘best’ move in an ‘over the board’ situation against a human opponent in the heat of battle isn’t necessarily always the one that my impassive, clinical ‘stronger than Magnus Carlsen’ chess engine will suggest to me after the game.

In the post mortem I asked my opponent why he had disappeared for a long period during our game. It was his reply that made my think about the importance of this lesson. He said he simply had to get away from the board for a few minutes to try and compose himself and gather his thoughts having felt ‘bombarded’ during this stage of the game.